News Wrap: Middle U.S. Blasted by Winter Storm

February 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: A new winter storm blasted its way across the nation’s midsection today, bringing heavy snow, freezing rain and even thunder and lightning. Weather warnings and watches extended to at least 20 states, from New Mexico all the way to Virginia. In parts of Kansas and Colorado, the snow fell at a rate of more than two inches an hour. It caused whiteout conditions, shutting down highways, schools and some state legislatures. Forecasters said the system will push on to the Great Lakes and Appalachians, with a spinoff storm dumping heavy snow on New England.

The snowfall in the Plains brought some relief to the drought-stricken region, but not enough. In fact, government climate experts warned the drought is likely to continue through at least spring. Drought conditions are also expected to spread to California, Texas and Florida. Currently, just over half of the U.S. is affected by some form of drought, but that’s down from last year.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have agreed on principles for a key part of immigration reform: letting in more lower-skilled workers. The two groups called today for a new worker visa program that makes it easier to hire foreign workers when Americans are not available to fill those jobs. The principles also envision a federal bureau to track labor market needs and shortages.

The focus of the gun control debate shifted back to Connecticut today. Vice President Biden attended a conference in Danbury, just miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 26 people were killed last December. Biden urged support for the administration’s proposals to curb gun violence and he warned there is a moral price to pay for inaction.

VICE PRESIDENT JOSEPH BIDEN: The president is absolutely determined that the loudest voices will be for the voices of the people who lost their voice. They will be the loudest voices in this debate. We intend to speak for them. Enough is enough. We have an obligation to act. And we are taking that obligation seriously, responsibly, and we’re acting expeditiously.

HARI SREENIVASAN: We will have more from our “After Newtown” series later in the program.

Gunfire erupted in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip before dawn today and when it was over, three people were dead and at least six injured. The shooting sent a Maserati crashing into a taxi, sending that car up in flames. Police said someone in a black Range Rover had opened fire on the Maserati near several major casinos. There was no word on a motive. Police in Nevada and neighboring Southern California were on the lookout for the Range Rover.

In Southern India, a double bombing killed at least a dozen and injured scores more. The targets were a movie theater and a bus station in Hyderabad, a city that’s a major center for information technology. Indian authorities said the explosives were attached to bicycles that had been parked in a busy market. They were detonated minutes apart.

There were startling numbers today on this season’s flu vaccine. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that among seniors, the vaccine works just nine percent of the time against the most common and virulent flu strain of the season. That’s the one causing most of the illnesses this year. For all age groups, the vaccine has been about as effective as it has in previous years.

In economic news, first-time claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, signaling that the recovery is still moving slowly. The news put a damper on Wall Street. The Dow Jones industrial average lost nearly 47 points to close at 13,880. The Nasdaq fell almost 33 points to close at 3,131.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.